Blogistan: The Internet and Politics in Iran

Article excerpt

Blogistan: The Internet and Politics in Iran. Annabelle Sreberny and Gholam Khiabany. London: I.B. Tauris, 2010. 240 pp. $75 hbk. $27.50 pbk.

In June 2009, the world was riveted by news of demonstrators taking to the streets in Tehran to protest the reelection of Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Images of a young woman, Neda Agha-Sultan, dying in the street were posted on YouTube and watched by hundreds of thousands. Ultimately, Iran's "Twitter Revolution" did not lead to a regime change. Although Blogistan: The Internet and Politics in Iran was largely written before the uprising, Annabelle Sreberny and Gholam Khiabany explain the roots of the protest and give context to the events of 2009.

Sreberny, professor of global media and communications at the University of London and president of the International Association of Media and Communication Research, builds on her earlier studies of communication during the Iranian revolution in 1979. Khiabany, a reader in international communication at London Metropolitan University, has written about the paradox of modernity in the Iranian media.

In Blogistan, they draw on news accounts, as well as reports from Iranian bloggers and previously published studies, to describe the growth of the Internet and blogosphere in Iran. They argue that when the country's regime suppressed traditional media and face-to-face political discourse, the Internet became the space for political debate. In creating an atmosphere of suspicion and "keeping people indoors with little to do but fiddle with computers, the regime helped to induce a generation of digital adepts, the consequences of which it was to rue in the summer of 2009," they write.

Sreberny and Khiabany carefully make their case, reaching back in history when necessary to give context to present developments. In chapter 1, the authors describe how the Iranian government both used and sought to curtail access to the Internet following the 1979 revolution. The government's ambivalence toward technology gave rise to ad hoc and contradictory regulations. Internet growth in Iran has been phenomenal. In 2006, eleven million Iranians had access to the Internet, an increase of 50% over the previous year. Still, Internet usage has been stymied, not only by government restrictions, but by the country's financial crisis, which leaves citizens with less money to spend on computers and Internet access fees.

In chapter 2, the authors explore reasons behind the growth of the Iranian blogosphere and conclude that despite political oppression-and even because of it-Iranians have embraced blogging as a means of self-expression. Sreberny and Khiabany estimate that there are seventy thousand Iranian blogs; many are personal diaries that espouse the writers' interests in sports, games, and entertainment. …